Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Area phone provider seeks exemption from rules

Embarq, the local telephone provider for nearly 335,000 Ohio customers, has asked state regulators to exempt it from rules that it has violated and for which it has been fined.

The state's third largest land-line phone provider, which has thousands of customers in Fulton, Henry, and Wood counties, wants to be exempt from telling customers of the most economical service based on their needs or from informing a customer facing loss of service what minimum payment is needed to keep service, among other things.

Embarq, formerly called Sprint Communications, said the rules are outdated and unfair to land-line carriers.

Spokesman Stephanie Meisse said, "We're not trying to get out of our obligations. Customer service is very important to us. But we just don't feel these standards adequately reflect the situation any more."

The state's minimum standards are updated every five years, and this week the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio deleted the rule requiring a carrier to tell customers of the most economical package based on their needs.

The carrier, whose rule waiver request is pending before the PUCO, was cited by regulators from 2002 to 2005 for not meeting the minimum service standards. Ten rules needed better compliance, but when Embarq was monitored last summer and fall, the standards still were not met.

As a result, it had to pay $200,000. Embarq is now in compliance, a regulatory spokesman said.

The firm's pending request also asks to provide less detailed customer bills; to be exempt from listing features in service packages or from disclosing how much each feature would cost separately; and to be allowed to market services to customers needing phone repairs before resolving a customer's concerns.

Janine Migden-Ostrander, the Ohio Consumers' Counsel, has challenged the waiver request. She argued that land-line phone companies have a greater responsibility to consumers than do cell-phone companies.

There are fewer competitors for a basic dial tone and local calling, said Ryan Lippe, of the Consumer's Counsel office.

"Cell phones in some areas are not yet a substitute for a home phone," he said.

"So the rules are not a matter of competition. They're there as a matter of basic consumer protections."

Contact Jon Chavez at: or 419-724-6128.

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